The website tackling Cambridge’s access problem
We sat down with the men behind InsideUni, the new student-led access initiative
Access to the country's top universities has come under increasing scrutiny recently. The Tab's 10x campaign has been making efforts to expose and challenge the unfair role that privilege and postcode plays in higher education.
As part of this effort, The Tab Cambridge interviewed the creators of InsideUni: a student-run website aiming to provide every applicant with the resources and advice that many take for granted. Over a warming hot chocolate, we learned everything you need to know about this new project and the guys who brought it to life.
Tommy Gale, who graduated from Clare College with a degree in HSPS in summer and is now working as a social worker in London, and Akil Hashmi, a third year engineering student at Robinson College, decided almost a year ago to establish InsideUni as a way to tackle the access issue in Cambridge.
The goal was to create "a free website to give everybody access to student-written application advice" despite their background. "Certain people don't have personal networks" to demystify the Cambridge application process; this website seeks to ensure that everyone can receive personal and useful advice. It is a midpoint between official University resources – which are useful but can be "sterile" – and informal chatrooms like The Student Room – which have personal advice but are anonymised and difficult to sift through. The mainstream media presents Oxbridge "negatively" and reinforces the myth that interviewers intentionally upset and confuse applicants – Tommy and Akil wanted to debunk this.
The website is still under construction. Its most thorough section is "a database of first-hand student interview testimonials", all moderated to ensure that they are useful and concise. This was prioritised in time for the interviews which will be taking place this month. Nonetheless, there are two other features in the works: subject guides (student curated advice) and more general resources (highlighting the work of other groups such as FLY, and providing all the information from various initiatives on one master database). "It's a living thing. Every week, we see changes".
In addition to student advice, InsideUni is a platform for all of the other work going on in Cambridge. From mentorship schemes to the work of specific societies (for example, guidance from the Islamic Society), Akil and Tommy wanted to make the application process much more "transparent". This includes providing information on both the internal and external financial aid that is on offer, much of which is hidden within specific college documents or charities' websites.
One of the positives of InsideUni is its diverse student engagement. Many traditional access projects are dominated by the social sciences and humanities; here, "the science student community has been just as involved". The student response has been overwhelming. In the first nine days after Tommy and Akil asked for interview testimonials, there were 590 responses. This figure is now over 700 and ever-growing. They are keen to challenge the view of Cambridge students as elitist and uncaring – so many students were pleased to be able to tell their story and help out.
In order to make sure that this website reaches those who could benefit from it, the team has been tirelessly working to promote it through every avenue available. This includes a video on the University of Cambridge's social media, sharing the website with Schools Liaison Officers in every college, promoting it with charities like 'Project Access', speaking to the student media, and encouraging students to share it with schools in their area. So far, the website has reached people in a total of 101 countries.
Most importantly, the response from prospective students has been "overwhelmingly positive" – "heartwarming" in the words of Akil and Tommy. Every few hours, Akil receives an email telling him that one of the feedback boxes on the website has been filled in. Applicants offer their own suggestions for improvement, and express gratitude, many saying that they found this resource "just in time".
The guys are keen to point out that this is a team effort – InsideUni wouldn't exist without the group of moderators, student respondents, and the University staff that provided them with invaluable help and support. The "network" of people working to improve access are all responsible.
Of course, one website is not going to resolve all of the access problems in Cambridge – there is no 'quick fix'. Nonetheless, Tommy and Akil hope that InsideUni will "level the playing field" and provide less privileged students with the advice and support that many applicants take for granted. They welcome feedback via the website or the InsideUni facebook page.